In recent months (1st and 2nd Quarter of 2009) a new unethical and deceptive manufacturing process has started to crop up among smaller “fly by night” USB manufactures in China and abroad. Despite all the recent price increases in NAND flash memory, some USB Flash drive vendors have been able to maintain or even lower USB drive prices when being sold into the promotional products industry.
Here is how it works. USB drive manufactures knowingly blend smaller sizes of flash memory into a batch of correctly sized memory. Anywhere from 10% -50% of the memory is blended or faked – it just depends on how greedy the factory is for profit. When the drives are formatted and setup – they are manually configured to report the correct size. So a drive with only 256MB of flash memory will report 1GB (or even larger) of free space. The drive will function properly so long as no more than 256MB of data is written to the drive. Even if more than 256MB of data is written to the drive, the drive will still appear to work. Only when the end user tries to access this data will they run into corruption errors. For most end users – they only use a very small portion of the available space – for these users they would never know the drive was faked. When an end user discovers the problem with the drive, it can be weeks or even months after receiving the drive. Since promotional products are given away “free” as a gift or incentive. If they don’t work properly – most times they just end up in the trash. Unfortunately this reflects negatively on the company that handed out the drives and their company logo becomes associated with something that didn’t work. But for the original factory that built the drive – 99% of the time they will never hear about it because many times these failures go un-reported. Furthermore, even when an incidence of a failed drive does comes up, it is easy to pass off as a standard “failure rate.”
So what can you do to protect yourself?
- Flat out ask for a guarantee from the vendor that the drives do not use blended memory. Surprisingly many vendors will shy away or suddenly raise their prices. We have seen reports where some vendors suddenly say they offer “Professional Grade” and “Consumer Grade” memory. There is no such thing.
- Can your vendor report the brand and model of flash memory they used on your drives? Crack one open and examine the chip and see if it actually matches. Some vendors will report that they only use “Tier 1 or Grade A” memory. Just like before, there is no such thing as grades of memory.
- Know your suppliers. In this stressful economic time, we all get flooded with deals and opportunities that seem too good to be true. If one vendor is 20% cheaper than everyone else – there has to be another reason.
- Does your supplier follow the current market trends? If flash memory prices are going up, are their prices going up as well?
- Test the drives that you get.